Ell’s NBA Eastern Conference Rankings #11-15
The Hawks are going through a transition this season, after years of being a playoff team, but never going deep. The team is building around young PG Dennis Schroder and will play a more up-tempo style that fits his quick style of play. Young wings SG/SF Kent Bazemore and SG/SF Taurean Prince have shown flashes of being going two-way players, but they both will have more than enough minutes to take their games’ to a new level. C Dewayne Dedmon was a solid pickup, after taking on a bigger role in the playoffs with the Spurs, but he will be asked to take on a bigger role with the Hawks, as a starter. Young guards Malcolm Delaney and DeAndre Bembry finally have the minutes to prove their 1st round statuses and try to fulfill their potential. 1st round PF/C John Collins has impressed in the Summer League and will have plenty minutes to try to take over a starting spot. The Hawks believe that Schroder will take the next step as a consistent scorer and expand his leadership to keep this young team competitive; the team has enough talent and a great system, but not enough to contend for a playoff spot.
The Knicks drafted French PG Frank Ntilikina in the 1st round who has good size and combo guard abilities, but he is young and a big learning curve will be expected, so Knicks fans will have to suffer through Ramon Sessions and Ron Baker who saw minutes last season, but wasn’t very impressive; he needs to improve his scoring. The trade options for SF/PF Carmelo Anthony are limiting, especially if he is looking at the Rockets and what the Knicks are able to get in return for Melo could push them down the list. SG Tim Hardaway Jr. was paid handsomely to hopefully have another career year after last season, but signs show that he will be good not great and worth the contract, but he is a young player in his prime who could get better. PF Kristaps Porzingis is officially the franchise and building block after problems with his exit interview last season, but he is a talent the team can’t afford to lose and will rightfully build around. C Willy Hernangomez was a solid find last season after the injury to Joakim Noah and the team will continue to let him grow as the starting center rightfully so; making Noah overpaid, but hungry to play better. SG/SF Courtney Lee will be another solid contributor off the bench as a valuable defender with the ability to score in spurts and pass the ball well. The Knicks will build around Ntilikina, Porzingis, Hernangomez, and Hardaway Jr. hoping that the team can add another star and push Melo out.
The Magic continue to try to build a team around young PG Elfrid Payton and athletic PF Aaron Gordon, hoping to find the right mix of players. The team added veterans SG/SF Arron Afflalo for his 2nd stint with the team, developing wingman SF Jonathon Simmons from the Spurs after a solid post season, and veteran PF/C Marreese Speights to help challenge and develop the young talent. SG Evan Fournier continues to be the best offensive weapon on the team, but he doesn’t play much defense. SF Terrance Ross appears to be in position to take over the starting spot and after years of inconsistent play in Toronto, he found a niche off the bench for the Magic; they are hoping he is ready for an expanded role or Simmons will be ready and willing. Also in line for wingman minutes, the hope is that SG/SF Mario Hezonja is ready for an expanded role, as he has a lot of offensive potential. C Nikola Vucevic continues to be a lot to handle in the paint, but he needs to improve his defense or the hope was/is that C Bismack Biyombo would be the defender/rebounder he was in Toronto a couple seasons ago. 1st round pick Jonathan Issac, is a long, athletic defensive prospect and he looked good in the Summer League, but the team knows that he is still raw and will need time to develop, but the minutes will be there for him to grow. The team needs to see continued growth from Payton and Gordon for this team to really grow; both are good on the defensive end, but need a lot of improvement and consistency offensively.
The Bulls have decided to blow things up following the trade of star SF Jimmy Butler, as the team seemed to be going nowhere and the potential to go deep in the playoffs was gone. Newly acquired PG Kris Dunn will take over the starting job, he proved to be a solid defensive player, but his offense was non-existent; he will have plenty of minutes to grow. Veteran SG Dwayne Wade proved that he can still be productive to be called upon, but he also wants to win and there has been talk of a buyout or trade, but that would make them even worst one of the worst teams. SF Paul Zipser was a decent role player down the stretch, but if the team doesn’t find a way to bring back SF Nikola Mirotic who is a solid, but streaky outside shooter. PF Bobby Portis will finally get his chance to take over the starting job, after a couple seasons of being productive at both PF and C off the bench, but the Bulls also drafted PF/C Lauri Markkanen in the 1st round who could take the job, if his shooting touch shows early. Markkanen is another player with the next Dirk label, but he still needs to develop some consistency offensively and continue to grow on defense. Veteran C Robin Lopez continues to man the center spot, as a defensive player with good size and energy who can scorer in spurts. SG Zach LaVine who was also acquired in the Butler trade will probably take over Wade’s minutes once he is finally healed from an injury last season, but the Bulls’ are hoping that LaVine regains his athletic form and has the minutes to continue to grow as a shooter, defender, and a young player to build around. The Bulls are also monitoring the growth of young SG Denzel Valentine who will continue to grow off the bench and appears to be their best sixth man option so minutes will be available for the 2nd year player. The Bulls are hoping for the continued growth of Dunn, LaVine, Valentine, Portis, and Markkanen with the hope that two or more of these players give them hope for the future.
The Nets are trying a new building approach with young talent leading the way with hopes of building towards the future with their growth. This development is led by newly acquired PG D’Angelo Russell from the Lakers, SG/SF Caris LeVert, newly acquired SF/SG Allen Crabbe from the Blazers, and PF/SF Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. This group of young talent is supposed to mesh and learn from veteran PG Jeremy Lin, SG/SF Sean Kilpatrick, PF Trevor Booker, and newly acquired C Timofey Mozgov from the Lakers. The hope is that the competition between vet and younger players will make the younger ones better quicker and eventually, chemistry will be made between a certain group to keep; however, the Nets are in for a very long season, but they will be a lot more exciting to watch. With the overlap of roster spots, don’t be shocked if the Nets make a move before the deadline; they don’t have their 1st round pick and need to find ways to get better.